Tiger Woods, Thailand, and Thaksin

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Tiger Woods, Thailand, and ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — they’re all related, if you can believe it.

This is — I hope — the only post I’ll be writing about the Tiger Woods saga. But I wanted to point out the following story since there’s a Thailand connection.

Tiger Woods is half Thai. But my understanding is that Tiger has not, shall we say, fully embraced his Thai-ness. That is, while he has acknowledged his Thai heritage (his mother is Thai), he has not proclaimed a love for or a connection with Thailand.

A little poking around on the internerd revealed this interesting Nov., 2000 TIME story about Tiger’s visits to Thailand.

A few graphs follow. All emphasis mine:

[Tiger’s] total prize money and appearance fees will top $12 million, while endorsements will bring in an additional $50 million. But while Tiger can count on tournament marshals and security personnel to control the throngs on the course, off it the going sometimes gets tough, as was evident during his return to Thailand, the homeland of his mother Kultida.

Woods’ first trip to Thailand as a professional in early 1997 was a three-ring circus. Politicians and TV crews boarded his plane when it touched down in Bangkok before he could unbuckle his seat belt. Woods would describe it as the craziest week of his life; he was hoping things would be a little saner this time around. “I always enjoy coming back to Thailand,” he says. “It’s always neat to be back among family and friends.” Not everyone was so enthusiastic, however. Some Thais feel he should donate more of his wealth to their country; others resent the fact that he lends his name to companies that, in their view, exploit millions of low-skilled local workers. “He basically has forgotten the Thai people,” says Prasong Pathom, a medical doctor who followed Woods around during day one of last week’s tournament. “He is a great golfer and has done some good with his foundation in getting equipment for young kids, but a number of Thais see it as nothing more than a token gesture.”

Woods reportedly received an appearance fee of $1 million to compete in Bangkok while unwittingly taking on the role of political kingmaker. Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecom billionaire and prohibitive frontrunner to become Prime Minister in January’s election, is reported to have footed the bill for Woods in return for a couple of photo-ops. As a council member of Kasetsart University, Thaksin was also pivotal in awarding Woods an honorary doctorate of philosophy in sport. Woods’ handlers informed the university that he was on a tight schedule, however, and that the ceremony could only be 15 minutes long and held at his downtown hotel instead of at the university. “It took him 15 minutes to get something that took me four years,” one student complained in a local paper. After the ceremony, a clearly flustered Dr. Woods was greeted in his hotel lobby by a noisy group of 100 fired employees of sportswear giant Nike (which has a $100 million endorsement deal with Tiger), protesting the layoff of 1,016 workers in September. “Woods should be able to understand why that company can give him so much money,” says Lek Junya Yumprasert, a Thai labor committee official. “It would take workers here 72,000 years to make that kind of money.” Woods was swallowed by a phalanx of security men and quickly exited without comment.

Given that this is an old story, does anyone have any updated info to share?

Published by Newley

Hi. I'm Newley Purnell. I cover technology and business for The Wall Street Journal. I use this site to share my stories and often blog about the books I'm reading, tech trends, sports, travel, and our dog Ginger. For updates, get my weekly email newsletter.

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  1. @Austin — good recollections. And nice link from The Onion.

    @Charlie — interesting suggestion. But wouldn’t Tiger need to travel to Dubai (or Phnom Penh) for a photo op with Thaksin these days? 🙂

  2. It’s a shame Tiger doesn’t do more for Thailand, he could certainly get more Americans to visit if he was some kind of tourism figurehead, especially for the golfing fraternity. Maybe Thaskin could arrange a round and another photo op in Chiang Mai, he could do with the PR!!

  3. Hah, I remember all of this. In fact, I was working at Kasetsart U at the time and remember how frantically desperate everybody seemed to cash in on his alleged Thainess, and how disinterested he appeared… The honorary degree in particular was ridiculous.

    By the way, I seem to recall an Onion article about Wood’s Thai half earning only $150 or something, but can’t find it. I did find this though, which is pretty funny: http://www.theonion.com/content/opinion/i_couldnt_help_but_notice_your